Three thoughts from the Nuggets' 97-95 victory over the Warriors on Saturday in Game 1 of their first-round series:
Andre Miller was the star. "I never hit a game-winning shot before," said the Nuggets' 37-year-old point guard, who scored the last of his 28 points with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Denver set up the final shot for Miller during a timeout with 14.5 seconds remaining in a game that had been tighter and lower-scoring than expected. His teammates waited in the corner to open up the lane as Miller crossed over to his left hand and burst past 6-foot-7 defender Draymond Green, 14 years his junior, on his way to spinning a right-handed scoop off the glass before Andrew Bogut could come over to contest. The absence of a Warriors' timeout essentially ended the game there and then.
The big doubt for the Nuggets has been whether a team without a go-to scorer can lead them deep into the playoffs. Miller nullified those concerns -- for one game anyway -- by scoring 18 (7-of-10 shooting) in the fourth quarter as he popped in mid-range jumpers. Throw in his assist and he was accountable for all but six of Denver's 26 points in the period.
"The strength of our team is we find ways to win," said Denver coach George Karl. "We don't have one guy who wins it, but obviously Andre was the guy tonight. Without Andre, we don't win that game."
Miller contributed to Denver's crucial 49-27 advantage off the bench. While he won't be expected to carry the Nuggets throughout the postseason, they will be counting on their depth to be decisive. All Miller was hoping was that the win lead to his first ever victory in a playoff series overall. This is his 15th NBA season and he has now played in 47 playoff games, but he has never reached the second round. "This is definitely a good opportunity to get out of the first round," he said.
David Lee injured. The Warriors' All-Star power forward fell hard under his basket 27 seconds into the fourth quarter and limped to the locker room, never to return. He was diagnosed with a strained right hip flexor and his status is uncertain for Game 2 on Tuesday. "We feel confident in whoever will step into his place," said Warriors coach Mark Jackson. "We're a no-excuse basketball team."
The Warriors made good on that motto in what was Jackson's coaching debut in the playoffs. Lee had 14 rebounds (to go with 10 points) when he went out, but the Warriors responded by out-rebounding Denver 16-6 in the fourth quarter. Center Andrew Bogut made a big impact with six points, five rebounds and two blocks. Overall Golden State out-rebounded its hosts 13-7 on the offensive glass.
But the Warriors may regret their failure to finish off this opening chance at a win: Not only can they not count on Lee for Game 2, but the Nuggets also sounded hopeful that leading rebounder Kenneth Faried (9.2 per game this season) will be back Tuesday after missing Game 1 with a sprained ankle. Here's more bad news for the Warriors as they seek a split: They are now 19-23 on the road this season, while the Nuggets are 39-3 at home.
Stephen Curry up and down. The Warriors' leading scorer and playmaker was never quite in sync. He was 0-for-9 from the field late in the opening half while acknowledging that he was playing too fast in his postseason debut. However, Curry was also responsible for eight assists and no turnovers as the Warriors built a 45-37 advantage.
His shooting picked up thereafter, enabling him to finish with 19 points (7-of-20 overall), but his playmaking eroded -- he finished with nine assists and five turnovers altogether. The good and the bad were summed up by two plays he made in the final minute. With 35.7 seconds left he was stripped from the blindside by Ty Lawson, whose breakaway gave Denver a 95-92 lead. Curry responded 21 seconds later by upfaking Lawson and sidestepping into the left corner for a wild three to even the score, just before Miller broke the tie for good.
The question now is whether the Warriors can continue to keep Denver out of transition, and whether Curry can join Klay Thompson (22 points) to score with efficiency from the perimeter in order to create a Game 2 upset.